Interaction of Radiation with matter Interactions with the Atmosphere

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Mie scattering occurs when the particles are just about the same size as the wavelength of the radiation. Dust, pollen, smoke and water vapour are common causes of Mie scattering which tends to affect longer wavelengths than those affected by Rayleigh scattering. Mie scattering occurs mostly in the lower portions of the atmosphere where larger particles are more abundant, and dominates when cloud conditions are overcast

The final scattering mechanism of importance is called nonselective scattering. This occurs when the particles are much larger than the wavelength of the radiation. Water droplets and large dust particles can cause this type of scattering. Nonselective scattering gets its name from the fact that all wavelengths are scattered about equally. This type of scattering causes fog and clouds to appear white to our eyes because blue, green, and red light are all scattered in approximately equal quantities (blue+green+red light = white light).

Absorption is the other main mechanism at work when electromagnetic radiation interacts with the atmosphere. In contrast to scattering, this phenomenon causes molecules in the atmosphere to absorb energy at various wavelengths. Ozone, carbon dioxide, and water vapour are the three main atmospheric constituents which absorb radiation.

Ozone serves to absorb the harmful (to most living things) ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Without this protective layer in the atmosphere our skin would burn when exposed to sunlight.

You may have heard carbon dioxide referred to as a greenhouse gas. This is because it tends to absorb radiation strongly in the far infrared portion of the spectrum - that area associated with thermal heating - which serves to trap this heat inside the atmosphere. Water vapour in the atmosphere absorbs much of the incoming longwave infrared and shortwave microwave radiation (between 22µm and 1m). The presence of water vapour in the lower atmosphere varies greatly from location to location and at different times of the year. For example, the air mass above a desert would have very little water vapour to absorb energy, while the tropics would have high concentrations of water vapour (i.e. high humidity).

Because these gases absorb electromagnetic energy in very specific regions of the spectrum, they influence where (in the spectrum) we can "look" for remote sensing purposes. Those areas of the spectrum which are not severely influenced by atmospheric absorption and thus, are useful to remote sensors, are called atmospheric windows. By comparing the characteristics of the two most common energy/radiation sources (the sun and the earth) with the atmospheric windows available to us, we can define those wavelengths that we can use most effectively for remote sensing. The visible portion of the spectrum, to which our eyes are most sensitive, corresponds to both an atmospheric window and the peak energy level of the sun. Note also that heat energy emitted by the Earth corresponds to a window around 10 µm in the thermal IR portion of the spectrum, while the large window at wavelengths beyond 1 mm is associated with the microwave region.

Now that we understand how electromagnetic energy makes its journey from its source to the surface (and it is a difficult journey, as you can see) we will next examine what happens to that radiation when it does arrive at the Earth's surface.

*** why most remote sensing systems avoid detecting and recording wavelengths in the ultraviolet?

Detecting and recording the ultraviolet and blue wavelengths of radiation is difficult because of scattering and absorption in the atmosphere. Ozone gas in the upper atmosphere absorbs most of the ultraviolet radiation of wavelengths shorter than about 0.25 µm. This is actually a positive thing for us and most other living things, because of the harmful nature of ultraviolet radiation below these wavelengths. Rayleigh scattering, which affects the shorter wavelengths more severely than longer wavelengths, causes the remaining UV radiation and the shorter visible wavelengths (i.e. blue) to be scattered much more than longer wavelengths, so that very little of this energy is able to reach and interact with the Earth's surface. In fact, blue light is scattered about 4 times as much as red light, while UV light is scattered 16 times as much as red light.

*** What do you think would be some of the best atmospheric conditions for remote sensing in the visible portion of the spectrum?

Around noon on a sunny, dry day with no clouds and no pollution would be very good for remote sensing in the visible wavelengths. At noon the sun would be at its most directly overhead point, which would reduce the distance the radiation has to travel and therefore the effects of scattering, to a minimum. Cloud-free conditions would ensure that there will be uniform illumination and that there will be no shadows from clouds. Dry, pollutant-free conditions would minimize the scattering and absorption that would take place due to water droplets and other particles in the atmosphere.

Radiation - Target Interactions
Radiation that is not absorbed or scattered in the atmosphere can reach and interact with the Earth's surface. There are three (3) forms of interaction that can take place when energy strikes, or is incident (I) upon the surface. These are: absorption (A)transmission (T); and reflection (R). The total incident energy will interact with the surface in one or more of these three ways. The proportions of each will depend on the wavelength of the energy and the material and condition of the feature

Absorption (A) occurs when radiation (energy) is absorbed into the target while transmission (T) occurs when radiation passes through a target. Reflection (R) occurs when radiation "bounces" off the target and is redirected. In remote sensing, we are most interested in measuring the radiation reflected from targets. We refer to two types of reflection, which represent the two extreme ends of the way in which energy is reflected from a target: specular reflection and diffuse reflection.

When a surface is smooth we get specular or mirror-like reflection where all (or almost all) of the energy is directed away from the surface in a single direction. Diffuse reflection occurs when the surface is rough and the energy is reflected almost uniformly in all directions. Most earth surface features lie somewhere between perfectly specular or perfectly diffuse reflectors. Whether a particular target reflects specularly or diffusely, or somewhere in between, depends on the surface roughness of the feature in comparison to the wavelength of the incoming radiation. If the wavelengths are much smaller than the surface variations or the particle sizes that make up the surface, diffuse reflection will dominate. For example, fine-grained sand would appear fairly smooth to long wavelength microwaves but would appear quite rough to the visible wavelengths. 

Let's take a look at a couple of examples of targets at the Earth's surface and how energy at the visible and infrared wavelengths interacts with them

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